The “Career Track” Trap

The ad jumped off the page and activated my D.A.S. (Daddy Alert System.)

Sometimes we lose focus in educating our kids by focusing on the wrong thing.

Sometimes we lose focus in educating our kids by focusing on the wrong thing.

“Latin Tutors can earn $80 – 90,000 in private academies.”

“Finally!” I said to myself as I read over the article explaining how the tutoring field had exploded in recent years, as parents look more and more to private educational options. Finally, I had concrete evidence I could use to support my belief that Latin was a useful skill for my teenagers in our classical home school program. Of course, Latin isn’t the first foreign language of choice in business or academic circles, but now I could at least show my kids how this ‘dead’ language could be lucrative. Never mind all the times I had reminded them how Latin appears in medicine, law, etc. –  all fields that usually command a hefty salary. Explaining the benefits of this course with the “it strengthens your mind” mantra seemed ineffective. Rather, I wanted to use the more palatable argument, “You can make a lot of money.”

And then I realized – I had fallen into the “learning is for the purpose of a career / salary / achieving the American dream ” trap again.

I’m guessing that many home school and public school parents, while outwardly preaching that education is its own reward, privately think that the primary reason to introduce a subject is to advance their child’s career options. We see certain subjects as marking a path across a mythical treasure map, and each math, science, or computer course leads to the “X”, which signifies the perfect career for our kids. I’m reminded of the technical college commercial in which a middle-aged man describes his life as ‘perfect’ since graduating with a technology degree. Apparently the boat, big house, and smiling family in the advertisement are all due to his getting the ‘right kind’ of career education.

But this view does not take into account the real aim of education, which is stated in Dorothy Sayers’ essay ,The Lost Tools of Learning  as simply “to teach men how to learn for themselves”.  To take courses and classes simply to get a good job does not help a child become a better person, but only a better worker – someone who can use their skills in a certain field that may one day be obsolete. Clearly, a “Career Track Education” was not an answer for the thousands of workers that have had to change careers two, three, four or five times in a lifetime. Why prepare a child solely for a career that will likely change in a few short years?

Instead of falling into the ‘career track’ trap, I have to remind myself, even as a home school parent, that the studies my children undertake are not (just) a path to a career; they are, more importantly, a path to character, discipline, and a deeply embedded love of learning. To be a lover of learning is to be fully engaged in life and humanity, and that is something no “career track” education can teach. While I can certainly guide my kids into the necessary courses to help them succeed in their chosen field, I most importantly want them to be successful people, not simply successful employees. Getting my kids into lucrative careers will not ensure their happiness, but building their discipline, depth of understanding and wisdom will go a long way in ensuring that my children will have successful lives, and hopefully great careers that they love.

Maybe my children will not become Latin teachers at Princeton, nor mathematics professors at MIT, nor any other profession that I would imagine as the perfect fit for their training. But they will have the freedom to walk into their calling and eventual vocation because they have learned how to learn. That’s worth more than any salary a corporation can provide.

What is the purpose of the subjects and courses that your child studies? How do you respond when your children ask you, “Why do I have to learn this?”


5 thoughts on “The “Career Track” Trap

  1. Like thehomeschoolmomblog, I, too, tell the children that you never know where the Lord wants to use you. I also talk to them about the value of one skill to teach another more intangible skill. As an example, math teaches one to follow a logical thought process; show me a person who struggles with a logical argument, I’ll show you a person who probably was a poor math student. Science gives us a small glimpse into the power of a loving creator–who else could design such an ecosystem in which everything is interdependent upon everything else? It doesn’t happen randomly, no matter what anyone says!!

    Inspiring as always, cousin. I am going to share this on my FB page, if you don’t mind.

    • Thanks cousin! It was eye-opening to me to realize that even as our Classical Conversations motto is to “know God and make Him known”, I still try to add my own goals to His, as if that isn’t enough. It’s an exercise in humility to remember their career path is really not in my hands. Share away!

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